Sunday, 6 April 2014

Homes for all - revisited



Yesterday I received my copy of the BBC Wildlife Magazine. I have been a fan and avid reader of this august publication since 1991 and have the last 4 years worth of issues stashed under my bed. It is a magazine that continues to thrill and inspire me. The photograph is outstanding and the articles engaging and fascinating. It balances a novice’s eye for wildlife with the greater need of those with more experience.

Whenever the magazine arrives I have somewhat of a ritual that has developed. I start with a run through the magazine. I don’t really stop and read any of the articles just browse through each page and soak up the images and get a feel for each article. In my mind I start to develop an idea of which parts I want to gloss over and which I want to read at quiet leisure. Next I find myself a pen and try and complete the crossword. Thankfully I m pretty good if I do say so myself and get very frustrated with the last clue that eludes me.

So this morning I actually came to digest some of the articles. I had returned from my morning survey work grabbed some biscuits and sat down to read the short pieces by Bill Oddie and Richard Mabey I then moved on to an article that real made me think  and reassess my standpoint on an issue I have discussed here on this blog.

I have a tendency, as you may have noticed, to very swiftly leap upon my high horse and pour scorn upon the bureaucrats and foolish civil servants who rule our realms and this action led me to consider my position regarding that hottest of topics – house building.

The article was a double-spread and entitled ‘Developing New Homes for Nature’. The author James Fair explained that in Swindon Wiltshire Wildlife Trust had gone into partnership with a Housing company to make a housing development as green as possible. This may have seemed like green wash, the token effort companies make to pass planning permission and to soothe local anger but whilst this could have been true it was also true that wildlife would actually benefit.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Imagine 200 ha of monoculture agricultural land on the outskirts of a town. The hedges have been removed over the years and the ditches are cleared every year to maintain drainage. Harvesting takes place early each year to maximise the ability to fit two yields into a year and few ground nesting birds like Skylark are able to raise even a single brood. Pesticides and Herbicides are used regular to maximise the potential of the crops. This piece of farmland is essentially barren in terms of biodiversity and species richness. 

A developer wants to use this land which is designated Green Belt land to build a new housing estate. In the past I would scowl and frown. Lament the loss of yet more Green Belt land. Bemoan the nibbling chomp of our wild spaces and expanding urban areas. Not once would I have considered the intrinsic wildlife value of these fields. Here instead is a chance if Wiltshire Wildlife Trust were to have its way the local groups would work with the developer to maximise the site for people and wildlife. People don’t want soulless housing estates full of concrete and tarmac, they want outdoor spaces and a pleasant vista. 

In this case 50 ha could be put aside as wetlands or planted as woodland. It could have a wildflower meadow or all three. In an instant the biodiversity of the site would rise and that’s before the gardens are included. It’s amazing how much wildlife exists in urban areas and by putting aside such land the area benefits from greater biodiversity, new homes are built and people get to life in connection with that wildlife. 

Obviously this idea of co-operative building will not work on all sites but there is the potential here for wildlife trusts and nature groups to install benefits into something that is often inherently bad for wildlife. I hesitate to use the word sustainability, since I studied the term some 15 years ago its meaning has changed and been co-opted out of all recognition, but this notion to me conforms to the original ideals of this oft quoted maxim. Now if we could just get these new houses built with solar panels as well... well one step at a time hey.